R iders have known for a month what the changes to the transit service would look like, but experiencing them firsthand this week has left a few people upset.
Front and centre was the decision to service the Alpine Meadows and Nordic Estates subdivisions using the new Village Connector service, and to route the bus through the village while bypassing the Gondola Transit Exchange on Blackcomb Way. Now, southbound buses turn down Lorimer to Blackcomb Way and back out the highway along Village Gate, while the northbound service goes down Northlands Boulevard before heading back out to the highway.
"When I come to the village I have to get out at the Village Gate and Northlands stop which isn't that bad, but the worst part is when I get off the mountain exhausted with all my gear — or get off work at midnight from the restaurant I work — I have to walk 10 minutes to the IGA to get home," said Teresa Sokolowski, who recently moved to Alpine. She now wears shoes to get to the mountain so she doesn't have to walk in her boots, which gives her more to carry. As well, she said the IGA stop is too small for the number of riders waiting for the bus.
Sokolowski moved to Alpine this summer from Creekside, and one of the things she was excited about was the bus stop at the bottom of her road. Now she's hoping that enough people will complain so that the municipality will change the route to once again include the Gondola Transit Exchange.
Based on her conversations with neighbours and other riders on the bus, she's not the only rider who's unhappy. "Most people I talk to are equally dissatisfied with having to walk to IGA to get home," she said. "The reason we all live here is to go ski on the mountain, and the fact we have to do all this extra work to get to the mountains is ridiculous. The fact they can't make the loop a minute-and-a-half longer... is ridiculous."
The Resort Municipality of Whistler has acknowledged that they have received some complaints from riders about the service changes, including people that are having difficulty adjusting to the new Early Winter schedule, people that are experiencing reduced service and people that have to walk further to get to their destination — a group that includes Alpine and Nordic Estates residents.
The municipality did give public notice of the changes, which were approved by council after a lengthy transit service review. One of the most requested changes in the review was the Valley Connector service, which was created to connect both ends of the valley without requiring a change of buses in the village.
According to Emma DalSanto, the traffic demand management coordinator for the municipality, the route change was necessary for the Valley Connector service.
"The impact of going back to the Gondola Transit Exchange is time and money," she explained by email. "It will cost more time (three to four minutes) each trip, which will cost more money or would result in eliminating eight to 12 Valley Connector trips per day in early winter and 10 to 14 trips per day in winter."
People with skis can take several other buses to get to the IGA stop, including the free Village Shuttle and transfers onto other bus routes that still use the Gondola Transit Exchange.
Last spring, the municipality acknowledged that it couldn't afford to keep up with the rising cost of transit, despite increasing fares. Working with BC Transit, Whistler council had to choose between three options — freezing the budget and seeing transit service hours reduced from 75,000 to 30,000 per year, increasing the budget by $1.1 million to create a "minimally acceptable" service with 60,500 hours of service or increasing funding by over $3 million to maintain the past level of service. Council went with the minimally acceptable version, funding it through cuts identified in a service review.
There have been other complaints about the service as well, including reduced winter service to Spring Creek and Function Junction and the fact that the Route 2 bus, Creekside/Cheakamus no longer serves Nordic. Service has also been reduced north of Alpine Meadows.
The RMOW is taking feedback on the schedule through BC Transit at www.bctransit.com/regions/whi/contactus/cust_serv_report.cfm. As well, BC Transit has a new Trip Planner function that went live on Tuesday that will help people to plan trips using the schedule. That service is available at www.bctransit.com/regions/whi/tripplanner.cfm.
"The Whistler Transit Service Review team (BC Transit, RMOW and Whistler Transit Ltd. staff) will be monitoring the Early Winter and the full Winter schedule in December (starting Dec. 14)," said DalSanto.
"In the last week of December we will be reviewing the performance of the system. We will tweak the system along the way. If needed we will prepare a new schedule the first week of January for implementation as soon as physically possible — most likely late January."